June 30, 2008

Hot Wok Express

By Angele Sionna

1000 N. Humphreys St. #243
Fort Valley Shopping Center, Flagstaff
(no menu online)

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>> = mixed bag, can be good but can be bad, can’t count on it

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
x= if the food's good enough, still worth going, otherwise forget it

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$= under $10

Value (what you get for your money)
Lunch *** = fair -you get what you pay for, not in a bad way
Dinner ** = okay - overpriced for quality/taste

Flagstaff is known for its beautiful mountains, gorgeous hikes, and wonderful weather; not it’s Chinese food. There’s a reason for that. Ask any local and they’ll tell you, Flag is not the place to find great, or even consistently good, Chinese. If you surveyed ten Flag residents about where they go for Chinese, their answers would most likely differ. In fact, I’ve had long discussions at dinner parties on this very topic. The one thing we all agreed on, Flagstaff could use a standout Chinese restaurant.

But as things go, sometimes you just want Chinese food. Kung Fu Panda put my family in the mood for it this weekend. Those noodle bowls Poe the panda makes were calling our name. So we headed to Hot Wok Express. This little restaurant is tucked away in the far left corner of the Fort Valley Shopping Center. It’s kind of hard to find if you aren’t looking carefully. Hot Wok is popular with people who work at or visit the hospital, which is right around the corner.

There’s nothing fancy about Hot Wok Express. The tables, chairs, and booths are all made of plastic. The interior looks a lot like most fast food spots, except for the oversized Chinese fans scattered around the walls. The fluorescent lighting doesn’t help the atmosphere either. It feels sterile and generic. This isn’t the type of place you’d go for a romantic or nice dinner. In fact, I would skip the sit down meal here all together. Instead use the drive-thru window. It’s particularly a good idea if you want to grab food on the go with the kids in the car without the hassle of unloading them. Another good option, Hot Wok delivers in a limited area for an extra charge.

We arrived hungry and craving Chinese food at 2:30pm. At most restaurants that would mean we would’ve been out of luck for getting in on lunch specials, but not at Hot Wok. They have lunch specials seven days a week from 11am to 4pm. For about five bucks, the specials are a bargain. In addition to a wide array of entrees, you also get an egg roll, crab puff, cup of soup, and steamed or fried rice. You can sub lo mein for the rice for an extra $1.50. Hot Wok is essentially a fast food joint; except here food is made when you order it and you get more variety.

On this visit we got Chicken Lo Mein with steamed rice, Kung Pao Beef with fried rice, and Orange Chicken with fried rice to split between three adults and one child. Plenty of food to go around. None of us got the soup because we don’t like hot and sour soup or egg drop soup, which were the choices today.

The Chicken Lo Mein has a distinct soy sauce and garlic flavor but is not spicy. The noodles aren’t as plump as I’ve had at other Chinese restaurants. Veggies aren’t plentiful in this dish, neither is the chicken. The Kung Pao Beef has water chestnuts, peanuts, and a sweet and spicy brown sauce. This dish has a ginger bite with lots of beef and water chestnuts. The Orange Chicken is fried with a crispy outside and chewy inside. It is surprisingly spicy. You take a bite and first notice the sweet and by the time you’re done chewing –bam- you’re hit with the spice.

As for the sides, the white rice isn’t moist and sticky like I’ve come to expect at a Chinese restaurant, which is a shame. I really enjoy sticky rice, as does my daughter. The fried rice was also dry and didn’t have much flavor. In fact, it hardly resembles fried rice at all except for the egg bits. But on the upside, their egg rolls are yummy, not too greasy, and filled with cabbage and carrots, no pork.

All in all, the three dishes and sides we had were average. On other visits to Hot Wok I’ve had better. I recommend ordering Moo Goo Gai Pan, Broccoli Chicken, or Cashew Chicken, all I have enjoyed more than today’s choices. While Hot Wok is nowhere near the best Chinese I’ve had, compared to other Chinese in town, Hot Wok gets my vote because it is quick and cheap.


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